With this, his fourth book in as many years, Brown delivers on the huge promise of his first, the tough-as-nails collection of stories, Facing the Music. With none of the melodrama or self- indulgence of his last two books, Brown here pares his prose close to the bone, stripping away the slightest hint of sociology or regional color. This is white trash, lumpen fiction with a vengeance, and a vision of angelic desolation. Joe Ransom is an unlikely role model. He drinks too much, gambles too often, and angers too quickly. A failure as a father and husband, he did some time in the pen before returning home to his job as foreman for a forest defoliation crew. But to 15-year- old Gary Jones, Joe's a hero. The son of a truly evil no-count drunk migrant worker, Gary is honest, hard-working, and loyal. When his pathetic family wanders into this Mississippi town and squats in an abandoned country cabin, Gary finds a job on Joe's all-black crew. Saving to buy Hoe's old pickup, Gary hides his money from his foul-smelling father, a bum so low he sold one of his kids and pimps his 12-year-old daughter. Gary and Joe prove to be ``kindred spirits''--they're both essentially good and just men, despite what the local cops think. Much of the novel demonstrates the disparity between Joe's worldliness and Gary's naivetÇ--the illiterate teenager has never seen a toothbrush. In his direct, credible style, Brown also chronicles the utter depravity of Gary's old man, Wade. This is a world of pit bulls, shotguns, plump whores, and guys name ``Icky''--an unlikely setting for Brown's profoundly moral fiction. ``Bright with pain and liquor,'' this raw and gritty novel ranks with the best hard-knocks, down-and-out work of Jim Thompson and Harry Crews. It's lean, mean, and original.